Finding Justice in the Opioid Epidemic
Written by Joyce Lee '22
Edited by Ashwin Palaniappan
OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet. If you are an American, chances are that you, or someone you know, have been affected by these opioids in any way. Overdoses have passed gun violence and car crashes to become the leading cause of death for Americans under 55. More people have died from opioid-related overdoses than in the US wars in Vietnam and Iraq combined. 
The release of OxyContin in 1996 turned the tide of painkiller usage in the United States healthcare market. At the time of OxyContin’s release, the manufacturer Purdue Pharmaceuticals marketed aggressively for use in the “non-malignant pain market,” liberalizing the use of opioids in the treatment of chronic non-cancer related pain.
Purdue profiled physicians with high rates of opioid prescriptions and paid out bonuses to sales representatives who “increased sales of OxyContin in their territories.” Purdue trained representatives that the “risk of addiction was less than one percent,” without sufficiently explaining the risk of addiction when the opioids are taken for prolonged periods of time, and the list of deceptive marketing schemes go on.  As a result of such marketing techniques, sales grew from $48 million in 1996 to $1.1 billion in 2000. By 2004, OxyContin had become a “leading drug of abuse in the United States.” 
On March 28, the State of New York filed a lawsuit against several manufacturers and distributors of opioids alleging systematic fraud of this so-called “Big Pharma,” specifically including the name of the Sackler family, owners of Purdue Pharmaceuticals. While the Sackler family were known more for their work in art and philanthropy rather than their role in the opioid epidemic, the court filing suggests that they were directly involved with the dishonest marketing schemes.
The lawsuit alleges that the statewide “catastrophe” of the opioid epidemic has happened because the manufacturers and distributors have betrayed their duties of “preventing the misuse and diversion of controlled substances” through a “persistent course of fraudulent and illegal misconduct, in order to profiteer from the plague they knew would be unleashed.” 
New York is one of three dozen states to sue opioid manufacturers in addition to the bundle of 1,600 opioid-related federal cases overseen by a District Court judge in Ohio.  By bringing these cases to trial, the government, and the people they protect, hope to find reparation for the costs of immoral conduct by pharmaceutical manufacturers and find those responsible for a nationwide epidemic liable.
 Sinha. Heroin Addiction Explained: How Opioids Hijack the Brain. New York Times. 18 Dec 2018. [cited 2019 April 7]. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/us/addiction-heroin-opioids.html
 Van Zee. The Promotion and Marketing of OxyContin: Commercial Triumph, Public Health Tragedy. Am J Public Health. 2009; 221-227. [cited 2019 April 7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2622774/
 Cicero T, Inciardi J, Munoz A. Trends in abuse of OxyContin and other opioid analgesics in the United States: 2002–2004. J Pain2005;6:662–672 [cited 2019 April 7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16202959
 The People of the State of New York against Purdue Pharma, et. al. Index 400016/2018. Supreme Court of the State of New York, Suffolk County. [cited 2019 April 7] https://int.nyt.com/data/documenthelper/722-new-york-vs-purdue-pharma-et/c9a1e4f5a0a00bd8507c/optimized/full.pdf#page=1
 Rabin. New York Sues Sackler Family Members and Drug Distributors. New York Times. 28 March 2019. [cited 2019 April 7] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/28/health/new-york-lawsuit-opioids-sacklers-distributors.html
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